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National Assembly reviewing new draft law on emergency Covid powers

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A health worker sprays disinfectant at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh on Monday. Hong Menea

National Assembly reviewing new draft law on emergency Covid powers

The National Assembly (NA) plans to call an extraordinary legislative session to pass the Covid-19 prevention and control draft law which could also help with the future containment of other contagious diseases.

Financial penalties and prison sentences may be imposed on some offenders who violate the health measures mandated by the government.

The NA’s Standing Committee passed the Covid-19 prevention and control draft law on March 2 and had submitted it to the NA’s expert commissions for immediate review at the request of the government.

Consisting of six chapters and 18 articles, the new draft law is meant to establish a comprehensive legal basis for managing the Covid-19 pandemic in Cambodia and any similar future public health crises.

NA spokesman Leng Peng Long confirmed to The Post that the draft law had been sent to the other relevant NA’s expert commissions for review.

“Basically, this law was put together urgently because it’s very important. We could not risk delaying it. The study of the law will also be conducted soon and everything will be moving forward with appropriate urgency,” he added.

Peng Long said this draft law is largely similar to the laws that other nations had enacted in response to the pandemic, including similar administrative and health measures.

He explained that the health measures in the draft law included sanitation standards, hand washing and social distancing requirements as well as requirements for ventilation of indoor spaces.

Administrative measures included in the law provide the government with the power to ban mass gatherings on an emergency health basis – including wedding ceremonies – or to legally require that all of the guests observe social distancing guidelines.

“If a place such as a shop is determined to be a source of infections, then the government can order them closed temporarily.

“And if a person violates health measures, they can be punished with fines or imprisonment. It also describes other administrative measures the government can undertake. For example, if a community transmission breaks out, we might decide to cordon off an area and block travel in or out of that place as some countries have done,” Peng Long elaborated.

Prior to this draft law, the government on February 18 issued a sub-decree on quarantine measures in a bid to contain Covid-19. The sub-decree comprised seven chapters and 23 articles.

According to the sub-decree, those who evade quarantine or escape from quarantine facilities will be fined between one million and five million riel ($250 and $1,250).

Those determined to be initiators, leaders, instructors, inciters, persuaders or to have otherwise intentionally aided individuals in their escape from the quarantine centre or hotel will be fined between 10 million and 50 million riel.

Any medical establishment such as a hospital or clinic found to be hiding the presence of Covid-19 patients or neglecting to report positive tests will be subject to the same fines.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for right group Licadho, said he could not yet fully comment on this draft law as he had not seen it.

“Without having read the law yet my only concern so far is that perhaps the government prepared this law in too much of a hurry. I think that the best idea would be to make the draft law public so they can receive input from medical professionals, scientists and other people with relevant expertise. That would be much better,” he said.

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